Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Harvest time

August 18, 2020 by  
Filed under Crops

Judith Tooth visits five farms working to bring in the harvest. Yields are variable, to say the least, as challenging season draws to a conclusion.

Anglian Pea Growers

It’s almost time for the night shift –  and five daytime operators line up their pea viners ready to empty their final loads of garden peas for the day. This is farmers’ cooperative Anglian Pea Growers’ 10th season supplying peas for Ardo – this year from 3000ha across 110 farms.

It’s the beginning of August, and today they are in Pulham St Mary, north of Diss, having made their way steadily up the Suffolk and Norfolk coast before heading inland. Next they will turn east again, towards Halesworth, before finishing the season near Eye.

“This is one of the longest campaigns I’ve been involved with,” says general manager, Andy Beach. “We began earlier because of drought, and then there were crops that didn’t mature as quickly as usual due to late emergence and then rain, so we’ll finish later, too.”

Euston Estate

After an on-off, on-off start to the harvest on the Euston Estate near Thetford, this seed crop of six-row Bazooka winter barley is being cut for Syngenta.

There’s some green growth among the ripe ears here on the lighter end of the field, mainly from new tillers, says farm manager, Matthew Hawthorne, along with some shed seed from the ear-heavy crop. It will mean drying the grain to bring the whole crop up to the correct moisture content.

“It’s all down to that dry May,” he says. “Further down the field the heavy soil had some reserves to keep the crop going, but on this lighter land there’s a bit of rain and you get new growth. It’s the luck of the devil.”

Thelveton Farms

It’s Friday evening at Thelveton Farms in the Waveney valley, and Lauren Firth, along with children, Oliver and Archie, has brought supper out to the field for her partner, combine driver, Steve Keal, and tractor driver Tim Wright. It’s a hasty meal, eaten standing up, but it hits the spot and gives some much needed energy for the hours of combining and grain carting ahead.

The crop of Craft malting winter barley looks “average”, says farm manager, Oliver Scott. He expects the yield on the sandy clay loam at Scole to be 5.5-6t/ha. The straw will be baled for the farm’s suckler herd of cattle.

Schwier Partners Metfield

Suffolk farmer Peter Schwier says he could hardly bring himself to take the combine into his oilseed rape fields on Metfield airfield, he knew the yield would be so poor.

He went off and harvested barley instead, and only came back to the oilseed rape when he had to. Usually he reckons on getting 2.5t/ha; this year it will be little more than half that.

It’s the only crop Peter grows that’s sold off the farm; the rest is used to feed his pig herd. He’s done with it now: next season his break crop will be winter beans.

Rookery Farm and Contracting

Tractor driver David Calton samples the grain from each trailer load he brings in from the field at Rookery Farm near Diss. Maureen Ling then tests it for moisture and specific weight. It’s been a very hot day, but at least there’s been no need to turn on the grain dryer, she says. She’s hoping her son, Richard, will soon take over for the rest of the evening.

Richard says they had been waiting for several days to get on to the wheat. After delays caused by showers, and the grain moisture content still a little too high, the sudden heat sent it “off a cliff” and it was all stations go.

“We’re seeing huge variation in wheat yields,” he says. “So far they have ranged from 4.5 to 13t/ha, which correlate directly with soil type.”

Variety Gleam, destined for local animal feed mills, averaged 10.4t/ha off this field.